Charlotte Joyner '24, GSF Writer
On April 29th, 2022 the Department of Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies proudly hosted the 2022 Senior Honors Research Presentations led by Director of Honors, Gabriel Rosenberg. Graduating students Katherine Gan, Tiana Horace, and Zadaiah Roye shared their year-long thesis projects in the East Duke Pink Parlor with a hybrid in-person and Zoom participant audience. The work of each student reflected their own identities, passions, and lifelong goals. The presentation was an incredible celebration of dedicated scholarship, academic achievement, and personal fortitude.
The first presenter, awarded Highest Distinction, Katherine Gan, was introduced by their research faculty advisor, Anna Storti. Storti described Gan as “remarkably talented” and emphasized her own amazement at Gan’s analytical mind and artistic creations.
Gan’s thesis, Excavating the Afterlives of Empire through Asian/American Women’s Aesthetics & Poetry, was initially inspired by Gan’s personal reactions to the murders of six Asian women in a series of shootings that took place in Atlanta spas and massage parlors in March of 2021. The thesis’ three chapters explore the aesthetics of colonialism and its effects in the poetry of Asian/American women poets.
The first piece Gan unpacks, Emily Jungmin Yoon’s A Cruelty Special to Our Species, allows for an exploration of the “afterlives” experienced by Korean women in the aftermath of the Korean War. Gan argues that in Yoon’s poem, “An Ordinary Misfortune”, the variations between first and third person demonstrate the afterlives of colonialism.
Gan’s second chapter, “Unraveling Memory of the Vietnam War and Vietnamese Refugees: Ghost Of”, explores Diana Nguyen’s work, Ghost Of, as a lens to discuss the reconstruction of memory, particularly familial ties.
Finally, Gan’s third chapter, “Contending with the Failed ‘War on Terror’: If They Come for Us”, is an attempt to decentralize the East Asian dominance of the Asian/American political narrative. If They Come for Us, written by Fatimah Asghar, a Pakistani-American author, explores the themes of discrimination, violence, and terror experienced by South Asians. Gan examines the colonial and warfare aesthetics within Asghar’s work and uses the gamification of drone warfare to question “for who?” does drone/aerial warfare serve?
The Q&A session following Gan’s presentation touched upon their personal connection to the thesis topic, the potential for art to impact urgent social conversations, and the importance of their own artistic experience while crafting a scholarly narrative.
After an introduction by advisor Jennifer Nash, Tiana Horace presented her thesis awarded High Distinction, A Narrative Approach to the Experiences of Black Queer Students at a Historically White University. Horace’s project is an exploration of the hidden history of Black queerness in both university spaces and within the world at-large.
Horace explains how her own struggles with identity pushed her to ask questions about the experiences of other queer Black students, and, while she was determined in her pursuit of answers, the apparent lack of documentation of these experiences presented both a personal and scholarly challenge. Horace describes the goal of her thesis as being to “document a history that has ultimately been left untold.”
In chapter one, Horace reveals her findings from interviews conducted with LGBTQ Duke alumni. The four themes Horace emphasizes are community, (in)visibility, discrimination, and the racialization of queerness.
Horace’s second chapter explores the themes of Black student “zines” from the early 2000s as a window into the Black queer experience at the turn of the century. Horace finds that conversations of “respectability”, the imposition of a white normative beauty standard, and the further racialization of heteronormativity reflect the struggles of Duke’s Black queer students in the early 2000s.
The thesis’ third chapter outlines the experience of current queer Black students at Duke. Horace asks students, “what does queer mean to you?”, to first understand these identities in a contemporary sense before asking where and how the Duke community should change to reposition queer Black student experiences as valuable as well as acknowledged.
The third and final student, Zadaiah Roye, was introduced by advisor Gabriel Rosenberg and presented her thesis, Partus Sequitar Ventrem, which was awarded High Distinction by the GSF faculty. Roye’s thesis title bears an intentional connection to the legacy of slavery particularly with its relationship to black motherhood. The first chapter, “Constituting Control: Black Motherhood & the History of Slavery”, explores the foundational themes that have come to define Black motherhood in the United States.
The absolute subordination of Black women during the centuries of slavery and even the years after has allowed for the physical and emotional abuses of Black mothers and children for the profit of a white, eugenicist narrative.
Roye’s second chapter explains that the historical forces of slavery came to shape the structure of the Black family and the Black population overall. In order to combat the “surplus” of these identities, referred to as the “problem” by eugenicists, white doctors performed the sterilizations of nearly 8,000 Black women in North Carolina, only 400 of which were consensual. Roye explains that after the end of slavery, Black reproduction was no longer profitable to white supremacy, and therefore had to be controlled.
In her third chapter, “Punishing the Negligent Black Mother”, Roye examines the link between the carceral system and Black motherhood following slavery and the Jim Crow era. Roye concludes that the disproportionate imprisonment of Black mothers for drug offenses contributed to stereotypes such as the “welfare queen” and other caricatures of the “negligent Black mother”.
Roye concludes overall that American slavery allowed for the devaluing of Black women and Black reproduction overall, and that the experiences of Black motherhood must experience a radical change to bring justice to Black women and mothers in the coming years.
During the Q&A section of the presentation, Roye was moved by the personal impact of her own work and the support she received from her family and Duke professors.
Congratulations and thank you to Katherine, Tiana, and Zadaiah for their incredible work and insightful observations.